How Minneapolis Public Schools is using Read&Write to promote equity in education
Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is a public school district serving students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade from Minneapolis, Minnesota. MPS enrolls approximately 29,000 students; 6,000 of whom have Independent Education Plans (IEPs) and 6,000 are English Language Learners (ELLs).
When MPS pivoted to distance learning in March of 2020, educators found that students had trouble accessing learning materials & assignments because of:
- Difficulties reading/decoding
- Learning disabilities like dyslexia (both identified and unidentified)
- Language barriers (as with English Language Learners)
- Differing degrees of adult support/availability
- MPS used ESSER funds to purchase a district-wide license of Read&Write to support students with reading, comprehension, research, & proofreading.
- Each MPS student now has a tool that facilitates engagement with learning materials & assignments across reading levels & abilities.
- +5-6k Read&Write Uses Per Day (in 2020)
- +Assistive Technology referrals down by 90%
MPS had long-standing needs to prioritize students' social and emotional learning (SEL), further address literacy disparities and promote more equitable education. These needs were accelerated following the wave of civil unrest and the fight for racial equality, alongside the impacts of COVID-19 on education world-wide.
To address those long-standing needs, district priorities were put in place by the Superintendent, Ed Graff, prior to 2021:
- Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
- Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)
Making the appeal
Jesse Morgan, District Program Facilitator at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and Head of the Assistive Technology Center at MPS, is experienced in using a variety of Assistive Technology (AT) tools including, Read&Write.
MPS provided a free version of the assistive technology Read&Write to all their students, and supplied the paid version (with advanced features) to those who needed it. Read&Write helped students access learning by:
- Reading digital text aloud
- Providing writing support
- Translating text
- Assisting with reading comprehension
Jesse demonstrated how the tool could help bridge the gap of structural inequities and pandemic learning recovery to meet the district’s outlined needs and priorities:
To explain how Read&Write supports SEL, Jesse started with sharing a piece of research that compared people who had recently encountered a tiger in the wild with students preparing to enter a classroom. The research showed that both audiences shared similar cortisol (stress hormone) levels, as students didn’t feel as though they had the tools or skills to meet the demands of the classroom. Jesse identified that Read&Write could help meet those demands with built-in word Prediction, Dictionary, Highlighters, Translater and Talk&Type features (to name but a few).
Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS):
An effective MTSS framework considers student variability by planning for multiple supports, designed by UDL instructional practices. These supports provide equal access for all learners and optimize student engagement to address the barriers and strengths of individual students. Read&Write is aligned with CAST's UDL guidelines.
“I think UDL (Universal Design for Learning) certainly is very similar to MTSS, and at the very least falls under the umbrella of what MTSS is,” Jesse says.
Offering assistive technology options to all learners aligns with the UDL principle of providing multiple means of Action and Expression.
As a literacy tool, Read&Write helps learners access information at their level of cognitive ability, not their level of ability to decode or eye-read. Read&Write also empowers students to show what they know without the barrier of writing difficulties.
Assistive technology (AT) was typically provided at MPS when parents/guardians advocated for it. This meant learners with resourced advocates were more likely to get the tools they needed. Making assistive technology available to all MPS students meant that every child would have the tools to empower their ability to learn, regardless of their individual needs and preferences.
"AT referrals are currently down by 90% "We all learn differently. Everybody learns at their own pace. We all want to feel empowered and have choices about our learning. This is really making a difference in kids’ lives. And it’s a good one."
Using ESSER funds
Jesse also outlined some tips for those wanting to take this once in a lifetime opportunity of utilizing ESSER funding for Assistive Technology (AT) tools, like MPS did:
- When approaching decision makers about using ESSER funding for AT, explain how it can align with and build on current goals and priorities for example, UDL
- Start early - these applications always take longer than is expected
- Tie your application into your school or district’s initiatives
- Any MPS student can now access Read&Write.
- Read&Write is now available to MPS students at a building level.
- Jesse streamlined implementation by creating an instructional website for the district including tutorial videos for teachers, students and families to get the most from Texthelp tools.
- While the district will compile resulting data at the end of 2022, AT referrals are currently down 90%.
Jesse recounted how a student with reading difficulties had been ‘acting out' in the hallway. As the student returned to the classroom for quiet reading, he anticipated issues.
Instead, this student opened an article on his laptop about his favorite artist and put on his headphones. Read&Write read the screen aloud.
Afterwards, the student and Jesse engaged in a spirited, meaningful discussion about the content.
I literally almost cried because it was so meaningful to me. We had a kid in the classroom who was so smart, but struggled with reading - which is true for so many kids. He had the cognitive ability to understand this information, but he was not quite able to read. I think about that story repeated over and over [in our schools] all the time."
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